Tonight’s episode of Covert Affairs is a huge misfire. Episode writer Norman Morrill and director Stephen Kay try and fail to make the return of Eyal, the show’s arrogant, enigmatic caricature of a Mossad agent, a meaningful but light affair. He’s back--and this time it really is personal.
Morrill and Kay conspired to create an indelicate and wholly mismanaged episode that almost never comes together like it should. All of the episode’s serious moments are too serious and all of its lighter moments are inappropriately sandwiched between serious ones. And that’s ignoring the way that Augie’s subplot is, once again, just there, and could have easily been cut out of the episode without anyone noticing. And oh yeah, the episode’s dialogue is still pretty awful, full of clunky and totally inert scenes of expository dialogue (Can USA not afford to hire a writer to punch-up the show’s jokes?). As in, two characters gracelessly tell each other what’s going on in the episode and what the emotional stakes are--over drinks. I get the feeling that “A Girl Like You” is going to wind up being the worst episode of Covert Affairs’ second season.
FBI agent Wasabi contacts Annie while she’s out on a blind date at the Blues Yard, listening to bluesgrass. Wasabi tells her that the FBI needs her to tell a CIA operative that’s harassing an informant named Jacob Yosin to back off. Turns out that CIA agent is actually Eyal, who wants to use Jacob to lead him to a Yemeni agent known only as “Cardinal.”
Morrill rides Eyal’s tendency of being the wise foreigner to Annie’s uptight but game American into the ground. Eyal doesn’t come across as being especially wise or thoughtful when he tells Annie that the difference between Israelis and Americans is that, “Our [ie: Israelis’] ambitions are about life, living well, not our careers.” He’s a cliched free spirit, man, and that means he can afford to tell Annie that, “Life takes you where it takes you,” and that she shouldn’t, “fight the current,” because otherwise...well, otherwise what? Morrill doesn’t get that far in his thinking. There’s no domestic subplot to provide a counter-point to Annie’s spy adventure story arc. So all of these teachings about how Annie needs to loosen up and let life take you where it will take you? They don’t matter to her now.
Which isn’t to say that they couldn’t cursorily be applied to Augie, who goes to Joan to file for re-assignment. He wants to protect the sister of his dead army buddy, who we met last week. Ignoring the fact that events have moved at a ridiculously break-neck pace for this couple, the only problem with this subplot is that its only thematically related to Eyal and Annie’s story. Augie’s decision to either stay with or ditch the CIA could alternatively back-up or contrast with Eyal’s lesson. But for that to work, Annie would have to appreciate that that that’s what’s happening. Because Eyal is talking to her, not Augie. Presumably, this totally hackneyed and connect-the-dots life lesson will make more sense later to Annie in season two. But if Annie’s not even pondering anything along those lines now, when Eyal is trying to teach her something, all she can do is smile and nod and appreciate Eyal’s pseudo-wisdom because, uh, it sounds thoughtful? Nah...
Then again, Eyal is a consistently manic stick figure, so why should viewers expect that the important concepts that he patronizingly teaches Annie have will have even the most superficial emotional resonance? When Annie rhetorically asks Eyal if the small cache of weapons he has with him means he’s “going to war,” he replies grimly, “Every day.” Or at least, that line is grim. Actor Oded Fehr was encouraged to play the line with counterpoint in mind, smiling Eyal’s characteristically flirtatious and enigmatic smile while he says, “Every day.” And he just looks stupid for reading that line, a line that only Bruce Willis could pull off, in that way.
Or how about when Eyal threatens Sosin by telling him, “Don’t let my friend [ie: Annie] fool you: I will do what I MUST”? Fehr leans so hard on that “must,” that you can practically see Kay behind the camera gesticulating wildly off-camera to Fehr to lean harder, lean harder, really over-stress that “must!”
I blame Kay here because there are certain scenes that could conceivably have worked as they were written, as awful as Morrill’s dialogue is. But Kay just isn’t a strong enough actor’s director. Take the scene where Eyal tells Annie why he’s chasing Cardinal. It’s bad enough that he casually tells her that Cardinal killed his sister and that he’s therefore the reason, “why I became a Mossad agent.” But that line could have been finessed if Kay gave the scene a sense of intimacy or a feeling that what he’s saying cuts through all the bullshit airiness that defines his character.
But that’s not how the scene looks as it was filmed. Fehr delivers his lines proficiently but when he tells Annie that his sister’s “name was Sarah, after our grandmother who died in Treblinka,” I don’t get the sense that those words mean anything to him. It’s a dead scene and it almost single-handedly wrecks “A Girl Like You.” When Annie says, “This is a suicide mission,” to Eyal, she’s not saying these words with a convincing air of shock or discomfort. Just like Fehr, Perabo could do the line justice or at least better than she did actually deliver it. But Kay didn’t bring either Perabo or Fehr that far.
I also hate the way that Eyal unconvincingly tells Annie that she lured him out of action using a “Classic Honey Trap” maneuver and how he even playfully wrestles with her--right after telling Annie about his grandmother that died in a concentration camp. Screwing around and being cooler-than-thou has always been a part of Eyal’s character. But I don’t believe that he’d just mess around with Annie right after having told her something this serious, not for a minute. The only way this could conceivably work is, again, if Kay had given us a sense that Annie and Eyal were passionately in love. That sex scene, complete with hokey Feist song cue, is not passionate, just clumsy.
I didn’t believe any part of tonight’s story as almost nothing was appreciably well-conceived (Joan’s perfunctory confrontation with Jai was fine but unremarkable). I really hope that “A Girl Like You” is season two’s nadir because otherwise, we’ve got some rough-going ahead.